Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Health, Sport and Exercise Science (PhD)

Degree Level



Health, Human Performance and Recreation


Sarah Stokowski

Committee Member

Ed Bengtson

Second Committee Member

Heather Blunt-Vinti

Third Committee Member

Stephen Dittmore


Collegiate Athlete Experience, Diversity, Inclusion, LGBTQ, Student-Athlete


In comparison to heterosexual counterparts, sexual minority student-athletes are two times more likely to experience harassment, more negative climates, report feeling deliberately ignored or excluded from team actives and are subjected to orientation-based derogatory marks via electronic means (Rankin & Merson, 2012). This particular population is 2-3 times more likely to experience anxiety and depression, nearly 14% will attempt suicide or acts of self-harm, and are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol (Cunningham, 2015). Non-inclusive climates negatively affect academic and athletic performance (Wolf-Wendel, Bajaj, & Spriggs, 2008; Turk, & Stokowski, 2016; Cunningham, 2015). The Athletic Equality Index (AEI) measures LGBTQ inclusion policies and practices in Power 5 conference athletic spaces. University fails to adequately meet 80% of the AEI criteria: non-discrimination policies, out or allied staff, accessible resources, collaboration with campus group(s), LGBTQ student-athlete group or initiative, pro LGBTQ equality campaign/statement, LGBTQ inclusive fan code of conduct, and guidelines for transgender inclusion (Athlete Ally, 2017). The AEI provides a tangible source of inclusion but does not measure daily efforts, or lack thereof, to foster inclusive environment for student-athletes. The NCAA recommends athletic departments offer support by developing inclusive policies, implementing educational initiatives and providing recourses to support LGBTQ student-athletes but these recommendations are unregulated and athletic departments ultimately determine the resources provided. Informed by Brewer’s (1991) model for Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (ODT), the purpose of this case study is to understand and describe inclusion of student-athletes who identify as sexual minority within an NCAA Division I athletic department. This study strives to answer the following research questions concerning inclusion of student-athletes who identify as sexual minority at an NCAA Division I institution: (1) How does University athletic department address the issue of inclusion? (2) How do student-athletes experience inclusion within University? Data collection includes: document review, semi-structured interviews, and reflexive journaling. This study explores the climate of inclusion for sexual minorities and how the athletic departments may better serve this particular population. Exploring and understanding athletic departments’ role in inclusion is crucial in the development, construction, and preservation of inclusion within NCAA Division I member institutions.